Why Traditional Persian Music Should be Known to the World

The Nasir ol Molk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran: Islamic architecture is one of the gems of Persian culture, as is its traditional music. Wikimedia Commons

The Nasir ol Molk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran: Islamic architecture is one of the gems of Persian culture, as is its traditional music. Wikimedia Commons

Weaving through the rooms of my Brisbane childhood home, carried on the languid, humid, sub-tropical air, was the sound of an Iranian tenor singing 800-year old Persian poems of love. I was in primary school, playing cricket in the streets, riding a BMX with the other boys, stuck at home reading during the heavy rains typical of Queensland.

I had an active, exterior life that was lived on Australian terms, suburban, grounded in English, and easy-going. At the same time, thanks to my mother’s listening habits, courtesy of the tapes and CDs she bought back from trips to Iran, my interior life was being invisibly nourished by something radically other, by a soundscape invoking a world beyond the mundane, and an aesthetic dimension rooted in a sense of transcendence and spiritual longing for the Divine.

I was listening to traditional Persian music (museghi-ye sonnati). This music is the indigenous music of Iran, although it is also performed and maintained in Persian-speaking countries such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It has ancient connections to traditional Indian music, as well as more recent ones to Arabic and Turkish modal music.

It is a world-class art that incorporates not only performance but also the science and theory of music and sound. It is, therefore, a body of knowledge, encoding a way of knowing the world and being. The following track is something of what I might have heard in my childhood:

Playing kamancheh, a bowed spike-fiddle, is Kayhān Kalhor, while the singer is the undisputed master of vocals in Persian music, ostād (meaning “maestro”) Mohammad Reza Shajarian. He is singing in the classical vocal style, āvāz, that is the heart of this music.

A non-metric style placing great creative demands on singers, āvāz is improvised along set melodic lines memorised by heart. Without a fixed beat, the vocalist sings with rhythms resembling speech, but speech heightened to an intensified state. This style bears great similarity to the sean-nos style of Ireland, which is also ornamented and non-rhythmic, although sean-nos is totally unaccompanied, unlike Persian āvāz in which the singer is often accompanied by a single stringed instrument.

A somewhat more unorthodox example of āvāz is the following, sung by Alireza Ghorbāni with a synthesised sound underneath his voice rather than any Persian instrument. It creates a hypnotic effect.

Even listeners unfamiliar with Persian music should be able to hear the intensity in the voices of Ghorbāni and Shajarian. Passion is paramount, but passion refined and sublimated so that longing and desire break through ordinary habituated consciousness to point to something unlimited, such as an overwhelming sense of the beyond.

Beyond media contrived images

The traditional poetry and music of Iran aim to create a threshold space, a zone of mystery; a psycho-emotional terrain of suffering, melancholy, death and loss, but also of authentic joy, ecstasy, and hope.

Iranians have tasted much suffering throughout their history, and are wary of being stripped of their identity. Currently, economic sanctions are being re-applied to Iran’s entire civilian population, depriving millions of ordinary people of medicine and essentials.

Traditional Persian music matters in this context of escalating aggression because it is a rich, creative artform, still living and cherished. It binds Iranians in a shared culture that constitutes the authentic life of the people and the country, as opposed to the contrived image of Iran presented in Western media that begins and ends with politics.

This is a thoroughly soulful music, akin not in form but in soulfulness with artists such as John Coltrane or Van Morrison. In the Persian tradition, music is not only for pleasure, but has a transformative purpose. Sound is meant to effect a change in the listener’s consciousness, to bring them into a spiritual state (hāl).

Like other ancient systems, in the Persian tradition the perfection of the formal structures of beautiful music is believed to come from God, as in the Pythagorean phrase, the “music of the spheres.”

Because traditional Persian music has been heavily influenced by Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam, many rhythmic performances (tasnif, as opposed to āvāz) can (distantly) recall the sounds of Sufi musical ceremonies (sama), with forceful, trance-inducing rhythms. (For instance in this Rumi performance by Alireza Eftekhari).

Even when slow, traditional Persian music is still passionate and ardent in mood, such as this performance of Rumi by Homayoun Shajarian, son of Mohammad-Reza:

A Persian woman playing the Daf, a frame drum, from a painting on the walls of Chehel-sotoon palace, Isfahan, 17th century. Wikimedia Commons


A Persian woman playing the Daf, a frame drum, from a painting on the walls of Chehel-sotoon palace, Isfahan, 17th century. Wikimedia Commons

Another link with traditional Celtic music is the grief that runs through Persian music, as can be heard in this instrumental by Kalhor.

Grief and sorrow always work in tandem with joy and ecstasy to create soundscapes that evoke longing and mystery.

Connections with classical poetry

The work of classical poets such as Rumi, Hāfez, Sa’di, Attār, and Omar Khayyām forms the lyrical basis of compositions in traditional Persian music. The rhythmic structure of the music is based on the prosodic system that poetry uses (aruz), a cycle of short and long syllables.

Singers must therefore be masters not only at singing but know Persian poetry and its metrical aspects intimately. Skilled vocalists must be able to interpret poems. Lines or phrases can be extended or repeated, or enhanced with vocal ornaments.

Thus, even for a Persian speaker who knows the poems being sung, Persian music can still reveal new interpretations. Here, for example (from 10:00 to 25:00 mins) is another example of Rumi by M.R. Shajarian:

This is a charity concert from 2003 in Bam, Iran, after a horrendous earthquake destroyed the town. Rumi’s poem is renowned among Persian speakers, but here Mohammad-Reza Shajarian sings it with such passion and emotional intensity that it sounds fresh and revelatory.

“Without everyone else it’s possible,” Rumi says, “Without you life is not liveable.”

While such lines are originally drawn from the tradition of non-religious love poems, in Rumi’s poems the address to the beloved becomes mystical, otherworldly. After a tragedy such as the earthquake, these lyrics can take on special urgency in the present.

When people listen to traditional music, they, like the singers, remain still. Audiences are transfixed and transported.

According to Sufi cosmology, all melodious sounds erupt forth from a world of silence. In Sufism, silence is the condition of the innermost chambers of the human heart, its core (fuad), which is likened to a throne from which the Divine Presence radiates.

Because of this connection with the intelligence and awareness of the heart, many performers of traditional Persian music understand that it must be played through self-forgetting, as beautifully explained here by master Amir Koushkani:

Persian music has roughly twelve modal systems, each known as a dastgah. Each dastgah collects melodic models that are skeletal frameworks upon which performers improvise in the moment. The spiritual aspect of Persian music is made most manifest in this improvisation.

Shajarian has said that the core of traditional music is concentration (tamarkoz), by which he means not only the mind but the whole human awareness. It is a mystical and contemplative music.

The highly melodic nature of Persian music also facilitates expressiveness. Unlike Western classical music, there is very sparing use of harmony. This, and the fact that like other world musical traditions it includes microtonal intervals, may make traditional Persian music odd at first listen for Western audiences.

Solo performances are important to traditional Persian music. In a concert, soloists may be accompanied by another instrument with a series of call-and-response type echoes and recapitulations of melodic phrases.

Similarly, here playing the barbat, a Persian variant of the oud, maestro Hossein Behrooznia shows how percussion and plucked string instruments can forge interwoven melodic structures that create hypnotic soundscapes:

Ancient roots

The roots of traditional Persian music go back to ancient pre-Islamic Persian civilisation, with archaeological evidence of arched harps (a harp in the shape of a bow with a sound box at the lower end), having been used in rituals in Iran as early as 3100BC.

Under the pre-Islamic Parthian (247BC-224AD) and Sasanian (224-651AD) kingdoms, in addition to musical performances on Zoroastrian holy days, music was elevated to an aristocratic art at royal courts.

Centuries after the Sasanians, after the Arab invasion of Iran, Sufi metaphysics brought a new spiritual intelligence to Persian music. Spiritual substance is transmitted through rhythm, metaphors and symbolism, melodies, vocal delivery, instrumentation, composition, and even the etiquette and co-ordination of performances.

A six-string fretted lute, known as a tār. Wikimedia Commons

A six-string fretted lute, known as a tār. Wikimedia Commons

The main instruments used today go back to ancient Iran. Among others, there is the tār, the six-stringed fretted lute; ney, the vertical reed flute that is important to Rumi’s poetry as a symbol of the human soul crying out in joy or grief; daf, a frame drum important in Sufi ritual; and the setār, a wooden four-stringed lute.

The tār, made of mulberry wood and stretch lambskin, is used to create vibrations that affect the heart and the body’s energies and a central instrument for composition. It is played here by master Hossein Alizadeh and here by master Dariush Talai.

Music, gardens, and beauty

Traditional Persian music not only cross-pollinates with poetry, but with other arts and crafts. At its simplest, this means performing with traditional dress and carpets on stage. In a more symphonic mode of production, an overflow of beauty can be created, such as in this popular and enchanting performance by the group Mahbanu:

They perform in a garden: of course. Iranians love gardens, which have a deeply symbolic and spiritual meaning as a sign or manifestation of Divine splendour. Our word paradise, in fact, comes from the Ancient Persian word, para-daiza, meaning “walled garden”. The walled garden, tended and irrigated, represents in Persian tradition the cultivation of the soul, an inner garden or inner paradise.

The traditional costumes of the band (as with much folk dress around the world) are elegant, colourful, resplendent, yet also modest. The lyrics are tinged with Sufi thought, the poet-lover lamenting the distance of the beloved but proclaiming the sufficiency of staying in unconsumed desire.

As a young boy, I grasped the otherness of Persian music intuitively. I found its timeless spiritual beauty and interiority had no discernible connection with my quotidian, material Australian existence.

Persian music and arts, like other traditional systems, gives a kind of “food” for the soul and spirit that has been destroyed in the West by the dominance of rationalism and capitalism. For 20 years since my boyhood, traditional Persian culture has anchored my identity, healed and replenished my wounded heart, matured my soul, and allowed me to avoid the sense of being without roots in which so many unfortunately find themselves today.

It constitutes a world of beauty and wisdom that is a rich gift to the whole world, standing alongside Irano-Islamic architecture and Iranian garden design.

The problem is the difficulty of sharing this richness with the world. In an age of hypercommunication, why is the beauty of Persian music (or the beauty of traditional arts of many other cultures for that matter) so rarely disseminated? Much of the fault lies with corporate media.

Brilliant women

Mahbanu, who can also be heard here performing a well-known Rumi poem, are mostly female. But readers will very likely not have heard about them, or any of the other rising female musicians and singers of Persian music. According to master-teachers such as Shajarian, there are now often as many female students as male in traditional music schools such as his.

Almost everyone has seen however, through corporate media, the same cliched images of an angry mob of Iranians chanting, soldiers goose-stepping, missile launches, or leaders in rhetorical flight denouncing something. Ordinary Iranian people themselves are almost never heard from directly, and their creativity rarely shown.

The lead singer of the Mahbanu group, Sahar Mohammadi, is a phenomenally talented singer of the āvāz style, as heard here, when she performs in the mournful abu ata mode. She may, indeed, be the best contemporary female vocalist. Yet she is unheard of outside of Iran and small circles of connoisseurs mainly in Europe.

A list of outstanding modern Iranian women poets and musicians requires its own article. Here I will list some of the outstanding singers, very briefly. From an older generation we may mention the master Parisa (discussed below), and Afsaneh Rasaei. Current singers of great talent include, among others, Mahdieh MohammadkhaniHoma NiknamMahileh Moradi, and the mesmerising Sepideh Raissadat.

Finally, one of my favourites is the marvelous Haleh Seifizadeh, whose enchanting singing in a Moscow church suits the space perfectly.

The beloved Shajarian

Tenor Mohammad-Reza Shajarian is by far the most beloved and renowned voice of traditional Persian music. To truly understand his prowess, we can listen to him performing a lyric of the 13th century poet Sa’di:

As heard here, traditional Persian music is at once heavy and serious in its intent, yet expansive and tranquil in its effect. Shajarian begins by singing the word Yār, meaning “beloved”, with an ornamental trill. These trills, called tahrir, are made by rapidly closing the glottis, effectively breaking the notes (the effect is reminiscent of Swiss yodeling).

By singing rapidly and high in the vocal range, a virtuoso display of vocal prowess is created imitating a nightingale, the symbol with whom the poet and singer are most compared in Persian traditional music and poetry. Nightingales symbolise the besotted, suffering, and faithful lover. (For those interested, Homayoun Shajarian, explains the technique in this video).

As with many singers, the great Parisa, heard here in a wonderful concert from pre-revolutionary Iran, learned her command of tahrir partly from Shajarian. With her voice in particular, the similarity to a nightingale’s trilling is clear.

Nourishing hearts and souls

The majority of Iran’s 80 million population are under 30 years of age. Not all are involved in traditional culture. Some prefer to make hip-hop or heavy-metal, or theatre or cinema. Still, there are many young Iranians expressing themselves through poetry (the country’s most important artform) and traditional music.

National and cultural identity for Iranians is marked by a sense of having a tradition, of being rooted in ancient origins, and of carrying something of great cultural significance from past generations, to be preserved for the future as repository of knowledge and wisdom. This precious thing that is handed down persists while political systems change.

Iran’s traditional music carries messages of beauty, joy, sorrow and love from the heart of the Iranian people to the world. These messages are not simply of a national character, but universally human, albeit inflected by Iranian history and mentality.

This is why traditional Persian music should be known to the world. Ever since its melodies first pierced my room in Brisbane, ever since it began to transport me to places of the spirit years ago, I’ve wondered if it could also perhaps nourish the hearts and souls of some of my fellow Australians, across the gulf of language, history, and time.

DARIUS SEPEHRI is a Doctoral Candidate for Comparative Literature in the Religion and History of Philosophy at the University of Sydney.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE CONVERSATION

In Iran, a Lost Generation Raises its Voice

Saddled with the effects of the 1979 upheaval, Iran’s “children of the revolution” have expressed their rebellion through both destructive and creative means.

University students in Iran. Julia Maudlin. CC BY 2.0

University students in Iran. Julia Maudlin. CC BY 2.0

Iran’s younger generation has faced an uncomfortable paradox: While they were born after the massive cultural and political revolutions that redefined their country beginning in 1979, they nevertheless have to grapple with its less-than-favorable results. Over the past decade, Iranians at home and abroad in the United States have faced internal turmoil and external oppression—and with unrest once again brewing between America and the Middle East, upheaval threatens to return in full force.

Forty years ago, in 1979, the revolutionary period began when Iran’s Islamic Republic seized power from Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Led by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamists aimed to do away with the Westernized era of the Shah, and reinstate traditional religious principles. “We must root out immorality from our society,” announced the Ayatollah two weeks after his arrival in Tehran. “We shall purify the entire press, the radio, the television, the cinemas, the schools and the universities.”

In the ensuing years, Iran transformed into what Qantara—a German website seeking to promote dialogue with the Islamic world—calls “Neither East nor West, but an Islamic republic.” Vigilantes claiming to be “Followers of the Party of God” (“Ansar-e Hezbollah”) blacklisted liberal newspapers and torched publishing houses and bookshops. The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution disseminated instructions to educators at all levels of the school system, ordering them to ensure their curricula aligned with the tenets of Islam. Further, the revolution adopted distinctly anti-American rhetoric, decrying the United States’ profiting from Iranian oil and thwarting of democratic movements for the past quarter-century.

Not every regime that has come to power since 1979, however, has enforced strict regulations on the lives of its constituents. Between 1997 and 2005, reformist leader Mohammad Khatami ushered in the “Tehran spring,” a period of political liberalization and relaxation of the harsh rules governing citizen behavior. Yet Khatami largely failed to live up to his promises of freedom, democracy, transparency, and reform, even when the reformers gained power in Parliament. Particularly traumatic for the Iranian people were the events of summer 1999, when gangs of thugs killed one student and injured many others during an attack on a Tehran University resident hall. When the students defended themselves, Khatami refused to support them, prompting many students and young people to distance themselves from the pro-democracy movement. And with the election of religious hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in 2005, even the perfunctory reforms enacted by Khatami lost their potency.

In recent years, Iran’s overwhelmingly youthful population—60 percent of its 70 million citizens were under 30 as of 2009—is placed in an uncomfortable position with respect to its country’s tumultuous past. This cohort did not experience the revolution directly, or experience the rule of the Shah, or fight in Iran’s battle with Iraq—yet they have experienced the aftermath of the 1979 upheaval and have grown up steeped in what The Economist calls “Iran’s strange blend of theocracy and democracy.”

This group of younger citizens was dubbed “the children of the revolution” by the mullah leadership that took control of the government after the 1979 student-led takeover of the American embassy. Having never known a world other than the one controlled by Islamists, they are branded with this label regardless of their own views on the massive cultural shifts that defined their childhoods. Their education was marked by intense ideological indoctrination, and among those who came of age in the 1980s, the principle of jihad and martyrdom against enemy forces in Iraq was often embraced.

A young woman in Gorgan, Iran. Soudeh Rad. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A young woman in Gorgan, Iran. Soudeh Rad. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In the following decades, young people were profoundly affected by the economic failures of the Iranian government: Although citizens are generally extremely well-educated and literate, job prospects have historically been grim, with rampant inflation and unemployment disproportionately affecting the young. The population spike following the revolution only made matters worse, as it encouraged rapid urbanization and an increasingly slim job market. With a job shortage, a lack of leisure and entertainment facilities, and discouraging prospects for the future, many young people experienced crippling apathy. In the mid-2010s, Qantara described dangerous levels of drug addiction among Iranian youth and an insurmountable rift between younger generations and ruling clerics. Overall, asserts Qantara, the children of the revolution yearn to live in freedom—to develop their talents and ideologies according to their personal desires and morals rather than under the aegis of spiritual leaders.

Yet despite widespread disaffection, young people are stymied by their complex relationships to their own country and its leadership. Many young Iranians still hold religion in high regard, and do not wish to transform Iran into a secular country; rather, they would prefer Islam to be eliminated from the public sphere and kept within their private lives. Further, despite the failings of their government, younger generations maintain a strong sense of national pride, and would still protect their leaders if faced with outside interference or attack.

Today, blame has shifted slightly among some citizens, targeting the theocracy rather than the elected executive class. Writing for The Economic Times of India in 2019, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra notes that lower-class rural voters are beginning to turn against the same religious leaders who have long supported them, but that their lack of independent leaders and means of mass mobilization effectively limits the harm they can do to the established order.

Meanwhile, Iranians living in America face unique challenges and often have complicated feelings about their native country. Virginia-based magazine AltDaily notes that the 2009 elections, which reinstated Ahmadinejad as Iran’s president, placed the country’s power structure and governance at the center of American dialogue. Writing 10 years later, in May 2019, Shervin Malekzadeh—who left Iran as a baby in 1978—describes the revolution as transforming Iran “from an exotic and ancient civilization” in the international eye “into something ominous.” Malekzadeh describes demonization of Iranians as religious fanatics, and feelings of pressure to present the “correct” narrative to Americans about a country that, to him, was largely an enigma.

Young men in Qazvin, Iran. Kamyar Adl. CC BY 2.0

Young men in Qazvin, Iran. Kamyar Adl. CC BY 2.0

In a piece for the Asian American news and culture magazine Hyphen, Iranian American writer Manijeh Nasrabadi notes hesitation to identify as Iranian among children of the diaspora: The 2000 US census indicated slightly more than 500,000 people of Iranian birth and descent living in America, but diaspora organizations place that number between 600,000 and 1 million. Nasrabadi points to negative treatment of immigrant groups by Americans, exacerbated by the 1979 upheaval and its anti–US rhetoric. Yet xenophobic attitudes—especially after 9/11, when Americans grew ravenous for knowledge of little-known, “threatening” parts of the world—have paradoxically offered a new outlet for Iranian American expression: writing. In the mid-2000s, memoirs by writers who came of age in Iran, such as Reading Lolita in Tehran, achieved mainstream success, and helped make a name for Iranian American literature as a distinct creative category.

“We have all faced a daunting challenge,” Nasrabadi writes, “how to grapple with a violent revolutionary legacy while inhabiting an America that abhors Iran and yet constitutes our home.” Now, with US tensions against Iran once again ramping up, and President Trump invoking bellicose threats as he deploys a military presence to the Persian Gulf, Iranian youth both in the Middle East and in America may once again face profound trauma as their native country grows embroiled in international turmoil. Perhaps this time, rather than channeling their frustrations into public disturbance, the younger generation will go the way of Nasrabadi and Malekzadeh, and express their disaffection through creative means—in the process, acquainting the international community with the unique concerns of the children of the revolution.






TALYA PHELPS hails from the wilds of upstate New York, but dreams of exploring the globe. As former editor-in-chief at the student newspaper of her alma mater, Vassar College, and the daughter of a journalist, she hopes to follow her passion for writing and editing for many years to come. Contact her if you're looking for a spirited debate on the merits of the em dash vs. the hyphen.

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Honor in its Most Dishonorable Form

Khalida Brohi sitting at a table, smiling. Joi Ito. CC 2.0

Khalida Brohi sitting at a table, smiling. Joi Ito. CC 2.0

“Even if I have nothing, I should have honor”. But what does “honor” mean for Khalida Brohi, now thirty-one years of age and continuously fighting to redefine the word. Brohi is a Pakistan native and women’s activist currently fighting to end honor killings in her small village just outside Balochistan, Pakistan. She is well-known for her numerous campaigns, the most notable being WAKE UP, Youth and Gender Development Program, and Sughar. She has been featured in multiple newsletter articles such as Newsweek 25 Under 25, Forbes 30 Under 30, and Forbes 30 Under 30: Asia for her accomplishments and hard work. Brohi started her activism at just nine years old when she discovered her cousin had been murdered in an “honor killing”, a decision made from the family that is in no way honorable.  

In her captivating memoir titled I Should Have Honor, Brohi tells us her thrilling story of her fight to end the practice of “honor killings” in her tribal village. Her memoir details her story, from the beginning to now, showing the birth of her many organizations and what sparked her passion for dismantling this horrible practice.

But what are honor killings? Honor killings are in no way honorable – they are power grab and a way to mend someone’s pride. Many cultures in Northern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia conduct these lawful murders which affect around 93% of women in these areas. They are brutal, unjustified, and tear families apart – all for the cause of “honor”. Honor killings happen when someone rebels against what their family deems appropriate. Thousands of individuals are losing their lives every year because they just wanted to live the life that they preferred over their families judgments.

When Brohi was only 14-years-old, she found out her cousin, Khadija, was murdered by her father. The reason? Khadija did not marry the man her father choose for her, rather eloping with the man that she loved instead. Brohi, upon learning this news states, “people often become poets when they fall in love, but I became a poet when hate entered my heart” (Brohi 71). Brohi knew then, at only 14-years, that no one should go through what he cousin did.

Using the strength she found within herself that day, Brohi transformed her anger into poetry, writing and eventually performing for her father’s nonprofit organization titled Participatory Development Initiatives. Brohi’s father made her master of ceremonies, and she wowed every crowd with her passion and her words. This exposure allowed her to be discovered by a local organization called WE CAN End Violence Against Women. After being contacted by them, she collaborated and brought the organization to her local village. Brohi knew that the woman in the village would be hesitant to come to any meetings, so being clever, she framed the meetings in another light. Once all the attendees that were coming arrived, Brohi eased in conversation about “honor killings” and how to go about stopping them. The crowd got silent once she mentioned her real agenda, but soon enough, people being telling their stories and sharing their thoughts and feelings on the matter.

From that tense first meeting, Brohi used the WE CAN organization to kick start her organization, Youth, and Gender Development Program (YGDP) which focused on “educat[ing], empower[ing], and strengthen[ing] youth against cultural restrictions, enabling them to speak up about customs like honor killings” (Brohi 87). Her new organization also gave the women in her village a platform and space were they could air their grievances and address what they believed needed to be addressed. In Brohi’s words: “Until [then], they’d simply had no resources to bring them up to par” (Brohi 89).

Though her personal organization gained more traction, she also unfortunately gained unwanted attention. The work Brohi was doing threatened the power structure and patriarchy around her. Not only was Brohi, herself, being threatened, but her family as well. It was not easy for Brohi to go through the decision that she did because since she was gaining momentum and a following, she was also gaining a following of people who do not like her. They did not like her speaking out on what she believed in. Their threats did not stop Brohi, though.

Brohi, with the momentum WE CAN and YGDP was getting, traveled to Australia and America to speak at multiple conferences and events, some including Clinton Global Initiative, Women in the World, and MIT Media Lab. At those events, she railed the crowd and gave more publicity to what was happening in her tribal village back home.

In 2009, she founded the Sugar Foundation, “a non-profit dedicated to providing tribal and rural women in Pakistan with opportunities to evaluate their abilities and nurture their leadership skills in an environment of growth and development” (quote taken from her “about me” page on "her" blog, khalidabrohi.com). From there, she has also founded The Chai Spot in Arizona with her husband, David Barron. The Chai Spot, is a forum where Americans cannot only help fund her cause, but also learn the lively and enriching culture and lifestyle that Brohi, herself, grew up in. Advertisements on her blog show that she is set to open a new Chai Spot in New York City soon.

Brohi, through her activism and sympathy, created organizations and gave a platform to people who believed they could not even acknowledge their experiences. She shows the power and agency women have and how they can use it to their own advantage. She is an inspiration for all of us. If you would like to support her, visit sugharfoundation.org and click the Donate tab to fund her important and impactful nonprofit. Let Brohi continue to define and redefine what “honor” truly is.





OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form.


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Mirage of Persia

Csaba Labancz filmed this video compilation when he spent three weeks in Iran visiting most of the major cities and some unknown villages up in the Elburz mountains as well as some of the most remote places in the desert. This film is an essence of a country of ancient traditions, breathtaking landscapes, truly helpful and kind people and countless historical places.